Campus carry and academic discourse

If there is one area where I can give anti-gun advocates credit, it’s their ingenuity in devising arguments to use against the expanded recognition of firearm rights. One aspect of that expansion is “campus carry” — laws allowing those who possess a valid concealed carry permit to carry their firearms onto college and university campuses. A lot of people are skeptical of these laws for much the same reason they’re skeptical of concealed and open carry period. Not much new has been said against these laws.

And then there’s Sonja West over at Slate:

The debate over these laws typically centers on whether guns make schools more or less safe. But those arguments overlook the real threat of campus carry laws: the evisceration of academic freedom.

If you’re wondering what this means, let her next statement provide the clarification (emphasis mine):

For colleges and universities to be effective, educators must be free to teach and discuss ideas—even controversial or unpopular ones—without fear of government censorship or retribution.

Yes, retribution. Basically Ms West seems to be expressing a concern here that students will use their firearms as a show of force to push curricula decisions and academic discussions a particular direction:

Guns on campus might not, at first blush, appear related to a school’s academic mission. Yet they are integrally connected. University administrators and faculty members have argued that guns would discourage the teaching of sensitive issues and possibly lead to certain topics being dropped from the curriculum altogether. Students and faculty also might be chilled from expressing potentially controversial ideas and arguments, which is in direct conflict with higher education’s tradition of uninhibited academic debate.

If only there actually was uninhibited academic debate on college campuses. The erosion of academic discourse has already been occurring absent firearms on campus. And it’s been occurring for quite a while, but has only recently become more acute due to some high profile incidents when “social justice warriors” have been shaping and warping policies and discourse on college and university campuses.

For example, at the University of Missouri, recently-dismissed assistant professor Melissa Click is on video doing just that during a campus protest under the label “Concerned Student 1950”. After telling a student journalist they needed to leave a particular area of the university campus, which is public property, Click said: “Hey I need some muscle over here. Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” Those actions cost Click her job as well as subjected her to misdemeanor assault charges. Would a firearm have made that protest more volatile? Actually it would’ve given the student journalist an edge to protect his rights, even though the attempt would have been feeble if the mob was courageous enough.

And then there is the case of another student journalist on the Missouri campus during the same protest:

The crowd decided to basically plow over a student journalist trying to document what was going on. And somehow Ms West thinks firearms on campus will deter the discussion of controversial topics? There already has been a chilling effect on college campuses. The question is whether West can see it, or whether she is blind to it simply for being ideologically aligned with it.

Another great example occurred at Yale, as documented in another article on Slate by Katy Waldman:

“It is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman … Do you understand that?” one student shouts at Master Nicholas Christakis, after yelling at him to “be quiet” when he tries to speak. “Why the fuck did you accept the position? Who the fuck hired you?” When Christakis begins to argue, she interrupts: “Then step down! If that is what you think about being a Master, then you should step down. It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are not doing that. You’re going against that.”

Later revealed is that the student who is shouting this was on the committee that hired Dr Christakis, and that she also comes from a very privileged background.

So will firearms on campuses only make campus tensions worse? I’m doubtful on that mark for several reasons, starting with the fact that those students who would be legally able to carry firearms will be in an overwhelming minority purely due to age limits.

For long guns you must be 18 to purchase and possess, but you really don’t have to worry about students carrying those around campus. No, seriously, you don’t have to worry about that. It’s completely impractical to carry a long gun around with you all day purely due to the weight of the firearm and the ammunition. And with pistols, the age of ownership is 21. And getting a concealed carry permit isn’t something most college students can afford.

So campus carry laws would be permissive to only a small minority of students called the “non-trads” — non-traditional students — and some juniors and seniors, along with those who are in the military reserves, provided all of the above have a concealed carry permit.

Further, the only students who would be able to carry concealed on campus would be those not living in campus residence halls. There is no indication that these laws would extend to requiring allowing students to keep firearms in on-campus residence halls. And even if they did, it’d still be only a minority of students able to do that.

Beyond that, though, the threat to discourse and free speech on campus won’t come from conservatives. I mean if you think that creationist students in a biology course are going to show up packing pistols to push biology professors to teach creationism, you’re worries are severely overblown. Indeed if firearms will do anything with regard to free speech on campus, it’ll open it up by giving students who would otherwise be suppressed a means of defending their own rights or assisting in the defense of others’ rights, especially against mobs who would seek to dissuade dissenters from speaking up.

Plus if a student really wanted to use a firearm on campus to effect a curricular change, there isn’t much stopping them currently. In fact it’s in response to students using firearms on campus — such as at the University of Virginia — that legislatures are considering allowing other students to carry as a means of providing an immediate response.

Threats to discourse and free speech already are, and have for a while been coming from neo-liberals, the regressive left, and social justice warriors. Some rather potent examples of recent attempts to shut down free speech on campus have already been presented above, and there’s plenty more where that came from. Those who want to play identity politics have already taken over, and free speech on university campuses has suffered for it, including at the campus where the 1960s Free Speech Movement began: UC Berkeley.

If firearms on campus will do anything, it’ll seek to preserve what discourse remains by defending those who wish to speak, regardless of their political persuasion, while also giving students a means of responding immediately should another situation like UVA erupt.